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The West Coast Kids Cancer Foundation is once again supporting children with cancer this summer, partnering with Surrey Schools to offer in-person and online programs to students and their siblings.
This week and next week, the foundation is hosting Park Play programming at Simon Cunningham Elementary, including crafts, games and fun challenges, along with virtual WCK Hangouts throughout the summer. Additionally, 13 Grade 12 students from the district will help run the program, facilitating online and outdoor programming with a focus on fun, connection and friendship.
"They're incredibly motivated leadership students who get a week with some teachers and speciality guests like nurses, and it prepares them to hang out with the kids online and in person," said Shannon Hartwig, Executive Director of WCK. "It's just such a meaningful connection to work with kids in their own district."
The program is open to children with a diagnosis such as cancer or a blood disorder, as well as their siblings. The foundation previously hosted a day camp for Surrey students with cancer in 2019, and though the camp didn't run last year due to the pandemic, the ongoing progress of vaccinations and low case rates has allowed this year's program to proceed. There are 41 kids registered in face-to-face and online programs this year.
Kelsey Merritt, Hangouts Volunteer and Program Coordinator for WCK, said the Grade 12 students have already taken to the online sessions, showcasing real-world leadership skills and gaining life experience.
"They've run two online hangouts already and they're such naturals at it, going in super confident, they're debriefing with the group and really helping each other out," said Merritt. "They want to make this so special for the kids and their families."
Hartwig said many of the children taking part in the program have made great connections with their peers, knowing they can relate to what it's like to undergo treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. She also noted that children with cancer can feel very isolated, even without a pandemic, but said some positives have come from the last 18 months, including greater empathy and receptiveness to online programming, allowing the foundation to extend their services and reach more kids in all stages of treatment.
"Our families have said, especially at the start of the pandemic, 'Everybody kind of gets what we feel like now,'" she said. "All of us have had a tiny bit of what it's like to be isolated where you aren't able to see people and you're hypervigilant about everything. It allows us to have more empathy for what these kids and families are going through."
The program offers in-person, outdoor programming from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on July 15, 20 and 22, and online programming throughout much of the summer. For more information, visit wckfoundation.ca